Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Death of Sleep

The Death of Sleep

I've been taken more portraits lately, preparing a bit for the Art 227 class at Stanford I enrolled in this spring and that just started. The first assignment was "self portraits", so I set to work.

I have a condition called sleep apnea, which means that my airways close when I fall asleep at night. My case is really severe -- I actually "stop breathing" dozens of times a night, and with it comes a lot of subtle, awful symptoms that can be very hard to diagnose (I assumed I was just stressed, or getting old). I was fortunate enough to be diagnosed by a doctor at work, and my immediately awful scores on sleep tests resulted in me getting a machine and a mask I have to sleep with every night.

The good news is, I've never had a more dramatic medical treatment in my life -- using it was like feeling 'awake' for the first time in years. The bad news is, I'm kind of pushing a certain Darth Vader vibe at night as I have this machine stinting open my breathing passages with forced air sucked in from the room. And of course, some mornings I wake up and the thing that keeps me from suffocating at night has wrapped its tubes around my neck.

My inspiration for this piece was this shot by Richard Avedon, which shows Andy Warhol after his surgery. It's gorgeous B&W (being Avedon), but it's this picture of the results of a medical procedure that has left someone vulnerable, but also more than a little alienated from the norm (which was already Warhol, I guess).

I wanted to capture this vibe in my portrait, which I think I got at least a little glimmer of.

I brought my softbox into the bedroom for this shot, and had it angled down and really close to my face (like I imagined a surgical or dental light would be positioned -- though I really needed a boom). The camera I put on my lightest tripod, which I had to position on my chest and fire with a cable release. A lot of work, but I'm pretty happy (well, and unnerved) by the result.

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